Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This One Time at Band Camp

My high school drumline (1991?).  I'm playing the 2nd bass drum from the left.

This one time at band, it's not going to be that kind of story.

This one time at band camp, I thought I might die from standing in the sweltering heat.  I felt like I was melting, but somehow my body held its form as well as supporting the 35-pound bass drum strapped to my front.  When I thought my blistered feet couldn't take one more step, I would hear, "One more run through, from the top!"  And I would groan, but comply.  That summer, my arms were so strong and muscled, not from pounding the drum, but from the push-ups demanded for my every error.  I would drag myself to lunch too weary to talk, too miserable to eat, but fill my tray with drinks instead, knowing we would be back on the field after lunch.  It was a summer of exhaustion and sunburn and struggling to learn something that didn't come naturally to me.

It ended up being one of my best and favorite school experiences.

I went to a drum corps show last night and it took me right back to those marching band days.  The first corps opened with a song that had been in the first show I marched in with our high school band.  I can still remember some of the drum part and drill 23 years later. I remember the feeling of excitement and nervousness as the band circled up for a pre-show pep talk and our bite of chocolate for energy.  There was a sense of  camaraderie and pride with our chant:  "Feet! (Together!) Stomach! (In!) Chest! (Out!) Shoulders! (Back!)  Chin! (Up!) Eyes! (With pride!) Eyes! (With pride!)" as we prepared to enter the field for competition.  To outsiders we may have been "band geeks", but to one another, we were like family.  Why else would we sign on to voluntarily giving up our Friday nights and many weekends to travel to football games and competitions, working in both the summer heat and the occasional winter snow?  What else would drive us to spend our "free time" memorizing music, and helping out with fundraisers to cover the cost of our travel?  It certainly wasn't for the joy of wearing those polyester uniforms and funny hats.

There is a gift in "suffering" together as it bonds you into a community.  There is pride in accomplishing something beautiful together that you could never have done on your own.  There is growth in pushing yourself past your comfort zone and finding you had more in you than you believed.  I learned so much discipline and so much about depending on others.  I grew a little as a musician, but even more as a person.  I have not continued in music (although I will be starting ukulele lessons soon), but I still carry the lessons I learned by carrying around that bass drum.  Music itself has a sacred quality that takes us beyond what we can speak.  Playing music--as well as hearing it-- is a spiritual experience.  And every time I hear a marching band play, it's as if I've found the beat of my life once again.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Family Sabbath

I believe in church, even when it is messy and hurtful.  It has often been a sanctuary for me, although I'm not unaware of the pain it can also cause.  I trust that we gain more in seeking together in community than we do individually.  I believe that there is room for the "spiritual but not religious" and "the religious and spiritual" to coexist and learn from one another.  Religion (and church as the institution that makes space for it in my traditon) gives us a foundation for exploring and practicing spirituality together.   Spirituality brings us into the mystery of the divine, a sense of awe and wonder greater than we ordinarily find in ourselves.  I have found that beauty in church and I hope to find it again.

But sometimes, my soul longs for Sabbath, for rest and re-creation.  Sometimes this introvert needs to hide away to rediscover my soul, and to rebuild community with the ones that share the most central places in my heart.  Sometimes I find God when I stop pushing so hard, when I stop seeking in the same expected places and am surprised to learn that I have been standing on holy ground all along. I was looking for burning bushes when instead God is in the messy pile of drawings and half-eaten bowls of cereal on the table.  When I can't hear the still small voice, God is in the laughter and arguments of my children.  

Sometimes it takes a change of plans to awaken me to the holy ordinary of my life.  On these days, Sunday morning church looks like this:

"Surely the LORD is in the place and I did not know it!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Looking back

I was obviously way too serious and busy in my student years.

I've been experiencing bouts of nostalgia recently.  You can blame it on the "I'm so [insert name of hometown]" meme that's going around Facebook, or the fact that I bought a new bookshelf and spent some time flipping through old yearbooks before stashing them on the shelves.  There is my upcoming 15th homecoming at William and Mary this fall and my 20th high school reunion next year.  Even better, I had the time to hang out with some college and seminary friends over the weekend.  It's a gift to have those friendships that you can just fall back into even when years have passed.  We can laugh at the same jokes, and a certain song takes us back to the memories we shared together.

I'm not one of those people for whom high school was the best time of my life.  In spite of all the achievements displayed in the mementos pictured above and all of the friendly "let's keep in touch" messages penned in my yearbook, I often felt lonely and out of place.  I did have friends and keep in touch with some of them still, but I was more comfortable in my studies and solitude than in sharing my true self with others.  I found my role as an overachiever who was affirmed by striving for perfection (and feeling crushed by failure).
College was more of my element, when it was acceptable to enjoy classes and learning and when there was the ability to be whoever you wanted to be.  As I've gotten older, I remember it as a golden time with much freedom and little responsibility.  However, I think much of that perspective comes from looking back through the rosy glasses of nostalgia.  When I really think about it, I remember the stress of balancing my schedule and assignments, and feeling very much in over my head.  I don't remember the actual classes, though, or much of anything I learned (I was a biology major, but please don't ask me anything about anatomy, plants, or animals).  I do remember late night walks to Denny's, hanging out talking in a friend's room, and Sunday lunches after church.  I remember feeling like I had found my place.

Seminary was a time of finding community and discovering calling.  I met my husband and developed friendships that still carry me through the ups and downs of ministry and life.  I learned, too, that community is not always neat and easy, and love often means hard work.  I've been confronted time and time again in my frustrations, realizing that I am the one who needs to change.  I have learned over and over again the power of grace and forgiveness.

It has always been easier for me to look backward or forward instead of looking around me at where I currently am.  That is starting to change, however.  I think the difference is that as I near my 40s, I am finally growing comfortable with who I am.  Although my surroundings and situation may change, I have learned that I have the strength and the gifts to handle the uncertainties of life.  While my place may change, I have found myself.  

As I work with college students, I get the gift of sharing my story, and the honor of hearing theirs.  So many times I hear their regret that it isn't all they thought it would be, that they expected to have their lives "all figured out" by now.  I smile in empathy because the older I get, the more I learn that we are all still figuring it out.  We grab mementos from our experiences and try to piece together the memories to make up the Instagram roll of our lives.  It may look good in the pictures, but it's often incomplete.  We expect to feel as if we've "arrived", but the destination is still unknown.  We want to feel successful, but the definition of success keeps changing.  We expect to feel like an adult, but aging doesn't necessarily make us feel any more grown up.  The thing that often screws us up the most is the picture we have in our head of how it's supposed to be.  It takes courage to stop, see, and accept things as they truly are.  There is mess and there is beauty, and both are always in tension and transition.  But there are gifts in every stage as we seek to find our role, place, community, and sense of self.  Each success and each failure brings us closer as we seek out what draws us.  Every memory is just a page in the story of our life that continues to be written, and who knows what beauty is in store in the very next chapter?